Often when we think about diet we automatically think about weight. However it is incredibly important for us to look at what else our diet can be influencing in our bodies and our health. There a huge pieces of evidence linking diet to brain health. This refers not only to our rates of developing anxiety and depression, but also our rates of developing long-term brain illness such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
So what can we do then to improve our brain health, reduce our risk of developing brain illness, and improve our mood, ability to focus, and problem solve- right now?
The first thing to say here is that there is not one silver-bullet. Dietary patterns are incredibly important in terms of brain health. If you eat amazingly all week and tick all of the boxes in terms of nutritional adequacy, but come the weekend- your diet spirals out of control, then you aren't going to reap the benefits of your amazing weekday diet. Consistency is important. This is because our gut relies on a consistent intake of helpful nutrients to feed, maintain, and build the gut microbiome. Whenever we introduce processed foods, alcohol, and other inflammatory causing foods into our diet then we undo some of our hard work. I am not saying to cut all of the foods that you love from the diet- in fact I believe that the opposite should happen. I teach my clients how to include ONLY foods that they love in the diet. "Treat" foods look different for everyone and not all of these are unhealthy options. Including what you love every day prevents feelings of deprivation and ultimately prevents over-eating and binge eating of unhealthy foods from happening.
The Mediterranean Diet offers an example of a great eating pattern for many areas of health- including brain health. This dietary pattern focuses on reducing our intake of processed foods and sugar, and increasing whole foods. In terms of the key nutrients of this dietary pattern that will improve our brain health- there are a few standouts. The Mediterranean Diet still includes animal foods. Plant based diets have been a trendy but controversial topic over previous years, however the evidence is clear that including nutrients found only in animal foods such as iron, zinc, and b12, have an incredible sway on our brain health.
Extra virgin olive oil as another key player here. It reduces inflammation, increases our intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and it can be included in the diet in almost every meal. People consuming the original Mediterranean Diet eat extra virgin olive oil in abundance. It's important to mention here that we have grown up in a very low-fat world where we are scared to include foods in our diet that are high in calories. Calories are not all created equal! Choose extra virgin olive oil to cook with, to drizzle over salads, and as a base for dressings.
Another key player in the Mediterranean Diet which has a huge influence on our brain health is B12. B12 is found in large amounts in a very bioavailable (easy to digest) form in animal foods so consuming red meat is important. If you are vegetarian then it would pay to consider supplementation of the B12 nutrient.
Flavonoids found particularly in fruit are linked very closely with reducing our rates of developing Alzheimer's long-term. Flavonoids are also proven players in improving mood and reducing rates of depression. Eating two pieces of fruit every day is a great starting point here. Eating vegetables in abundance is another key starting point. Look at your current diet and consider if you are eating enough vegetables. The recommendation in New Zealand is to consume at least five servings of vegetables everyday. This is the same as consuming 5 large handfuls of veggies. I challenge you to include at least three servings of vegetables before 6 p.m. Everyday. This means that vegetables could be added to breakfast, lunch meals, and as snacks throughout the day. Another great thing about including veggies and fruit in abundance, is that they enhance the absorption of nutrients obtained from animal foods such as iron. Iron deficiency is a huge risk factor for reduced mood, so anything that we can do to improve iron levels of those with low iron is important.
This is just one example of the impact that nutrition can have on areas of our health other than weight. When I work with clients I look not only at body composition, I also focus hugely on moods, levels of irritability, sleep, bloating & gut health, and energy levels. If you focus only on losing weight and achieve this- then what does this bring you? What is the point of losing weight if you don't feel happy or still don't have your health?
If you would like to work with a registered dietitian who uses science-backed advice to support you to feel better, improve your health, and achieve your nutrition-related goals then please get in touch. You can book a free call with me to talk more, check out my uplift platform and services, or just send me an email or message (email@example.com).
Nutrition can do amazing things for people and I look forward to supporting you to become a better version of yourself.